Top Ten Tailgating Tips for Preparing and Serving Fabulous Foods Outdoors
There is nothing more American than a picnic or tailgate party. One of the best things about tailgating and summer picnics is getting out of the house and dining al fresco (outdoors). Whether it’s at the backyard picnic table, on the screened-in porch, on a tiny terrace for two, at a favorite park, in the parking lot at a baseball game or a football game or at NASCAR racing event, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy life.
1. Determine the menu. Keep it simple. Do as much party planning and food preparation as possible ahead of your party. This will allow you to make the most of the weather and atmosphere — enjoying a relaxing meal outdoors (al fresco) with family and friends.
- It’s easier to make a lot of only a couple of foods, rather than a little of a lot of different foods.
- A satisfying menu includes a crunchy appetizer (for people to eat while you’re getting other foods ready), meat or sandwiches, a side dish or two (such as potato, pasta or fruit salads because they are dressed beforehand) and a dessert.
- Take both hot and cold drinks. If it’s chilly, a thermos of hot coffee or cocoa will be very welcome. Be sure to include hot beverage cups.
- It’s the “little things” that can make all the difference. Keep the surprises coming throughout the party.
2. Gather the equipment you will need.
- If you plan to grill meats or vegetables, make sure you take the grill, the charcoal or gas, tongs, etc.
- If you plan to make frozen drinks, take your blender plus an appropriate power source. Consider purchasing a power inverter that converts 12-volt DC power from your car’s battery into 110/120-volt AC power for appliances.
3. Make a list and check it off.
- Don’t forget to take a blanket, plenty of paper or plastic plates, napkins, plastic flatware, serving utensils, plastic cups and glasses and/or tumblers, a bottle opener, a corkscrew, condiments, clean-up cloths and trash bags.
- Pack a first-aid kit with sunscreen, insect repellent, Band-Aids and wet wipes. Remember to include any necessary medications.
- Don’t forget the radio/CD player.
- Include a cover in case of rain and a flashlight if it gets dark.
4. Keep Cool: Take at least two insulated coolers.
- One cooler should be filled with ice, water and plenty of other cold drinks.
- The second cooler should be used to keep perishable foods like meats cold until cooking time. It’s also best to keep chilled pasta, potato or fruit salads cold until serving time in a cooler.
- Travel with your cooler inside the air-conditioned car rather than packing it in the hot trunk.
5. If grilling meat, chicken or fish at the tailgate, add extra flavor by marinating the meat in the refrigerator before you go.
- Use resealable plastic bags for easy transport and clean-up. (I recommend Ziploc brand bags.) Simply discard the bag after use. Keep marinated meats in the cooler until ready to cook.
- Cook meat, fish and poultry thoroughly. See the following guidelines from the USDA on proper meat temperatures to ensure safety:
– Poultry (170° F for white meat and 180° F for dark meat, juices should run clear)
– Beef (145° F in the center)
– Pork (160° F, with the center remaining slightly pink)
– Ground Meat and Poultry (160° F, measured through the patty)
- Never place grilled meat on a plate that has had raw meat on it.
6. Be safe. Food safety is extremely important.
- As always, wash hands and work areas before preparing food.
- Pack a jug of water, antibacterial soap and wet cloths for washing your hands before and after handling raw foods, such as chicken, beef, pork or fish.
7. Keep hot foods, hot! Keep cold foods, cold!
- Keep hot foods in an insulated jug, a slow-cooker plugged into your car battery, or in an appropriate pan sitting on the hot grill. (See Tip #2 above.)
- Use insulated heat-and-tote containers (such as Pyrex Portables) to transport hot or cold foods to the tailgate party. These will keep foods hot or cold for a few hours.
- To keep foods cold while serving, place salads and desserts in a smaller container, then place the smaller container in a larger container. Fill the larger container with ice to surround the smaller one.
- Remember that foods such as meats and dressed salads should not be left out for more that two hours or you run the risk of food poisoning.
- Do not leave any leftover food out on the tailgate or picnic table. Put leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you’re finished eating. Replenish the ice if it melts. Keep leftover food only if there is ice still in the cooler when you get home.
8. Take enough food to feed your group of friends and to share with your fellow tailgaters. Invite others over to taste your creations and share your favorite stories; it’s a great way to meet new friends. Remember that eating outdoors can make people extra-hungry.
9. Create a festive atmosphere. Show your colors by using thematic plates, napkins, plastic flatware and decorations. Don’t forget the matching tablecloth. Baskets of fresh fruit make beautiful, edible centerpieces. Then have fun, fun, fabulous fun!
10. Clean up thoroughly after your tailgate party or picnic. Take your trash home with you. Put out any hot coals, etc. from the grill. Leave the site as you found it. Be kind to your neighbors.
For more food safety tips, you can visit the USDA’s web site.